How Rubrics Can Improve Your Parenting

Parents need to transition from being the all-knowing judge of their child’s performance to being a cheerleader of their child’s success

Tim Schwartz
Family Matters
6 min readMar 15, 2021


Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Before you tell your child that something isn’t good or good enough, you may want to stop to ask yourself if you’ve already defined what good looks like for them.

Imagine how demotivational it is for a child when adults in their life tell them that something isn’t good but keep them in the dark about what good actually looks like. If a child doesn’t know what good looks like then how can you expect them to reproduce it?

This is where rubrics can be handy.

If you’re an educator then you’re probably already familiar with rubrics because they’ve become increasingly common in certain approaches to teaching and learning. Rubrics are sets of guidelines for given criteria that define levels of performance with detailed descriptions. They’re often used in education to empower students in knowing where they are at in their understanding of a given topic.

Rubrics can be as simple as a letter or number scale with short descriptions that characterize one’s performance for each criteria like in this example from an elementary level Spanish class:

Screenshot of a word document that has a rubric for a Spanish language class.
Rubric from 2nd Grade Spanish Class.

They can get more complex as students get older as seen in this rubric designed for Middle Schoolers in the International Baccalaureate’s MYP Individuals and Societies class for example.

A screenshot of a document that has a rubric for an Individuals and Societies class.

You can see that in both rubrics, a student can clearly see how ‘good’ is defined for them. In the second example, it is very clear what it takes to achieve the highest possible score of 8. Rubrics like the both of these make it easy to know what to work towards in order to get better at something. The more complex a rubric gets, the more helpful details it provides — that way, a learner can focus on very specific elements of their performance in order to improve. Leveraging rubrics will result in developing confident students who know themselves as learners and have the tools they need to continually improve on their own.

Once you see rubrics in action, you begin to understand how genius they really are. Rubrics help you spell out clear expectations and provide a clear picture of current competency — two foundational elements necessary for any individual’s growth. After seeing rubrics in action as a parent of a student in a school that uses them, you might even come to the conclusion that rubrics can be used for everything in our lives so we always know what to work towards to be the best we can be.

This realization is what led me to the conclusion that rubrics can help people become better parents.

How Rubrics Can Improve Your Parenting

The spirit of rubrics can be leveraged in parenting by getting into the habit of supporting your child in understanding what good looks like so they can self-assess and course correct on their own instead of simply passing judgement on their performance. This represents a shift in focus for parents from outcome to process. This approach is not easy because it requires parents to adapt to a behavioral model that may go against how they were raised.

In essence, parents need to transition from being the all knowing judge of their child’s performance to being a cheerleader of their child’s success. Keep in mind that a judges’ role is to pass judgement on performance or behavior which doesn’t leave room for self-discovery, self-assessment or self-improvement. On the other hand, a cheerleader’s role is to be supportive and present at every step of the journey regardless of current performance.

By being the cheerleader, you will foster a greater sense of independence and self-awareness in your child.

Let’s keep in mind that even the youngest children crave independence in the same way that adults do. This understanding underpins the Montessori approach which strives to create classrooms that allow children to be independent. This is why Montessori classrooms are built with tiny furniture, low sinks and shelves. The goal of designing a classroom in this way is to facilitate play and self-care without having to rely on an adult. It is an acknowledgement that humans, at any age, just want the freedom to do things on their own.

This is where a rubric inspired approach to parenting can serve as a reminder to parents that their role can be more effective in developing confident children if they shift their focus from assessing performance to describing what different levels of performance equate to.

Rubric-Inspired Thinking in Action

Here are a couple examples of what it looks like to put the rubric mindset into action.

  1. The first time you ask your 4 year old daughter to clean her room, you plan on doing it together in stages. At the end of each stage, you ask her to tell you how she thinks you’ve done so far. You can support her understanding of what good looks like by asking her to tell you if she thinks the room is messy, clean or super clean. In the first stage, you put a few things away and ask her how she thinks the room is. If she comes back with ‘messy’ then you’re on to the next stage where you put most of the things away and then ask her to tell you if she thinks the room is messy, clean or super clean. Hopefully, she comes back with ‘clean’ but if not then you can share your thinking with her. Finally, you put everything away so the room looks perfect and then ask her to tell you whether the room is messy, clean or super clean. You can repeat this exercise as many times as needed to give her the time and space needed to accurately self-assess.
  2. Your 10 year old son isn’t doing well in a given subject. You wonder out loud together about what actions he can take to do better. You acknowledge how some subjects come easier than others but how that doesn’t mean he can’t do better. It just means that he needs to look at the amount of time he’s invested in studying and associate that amount of effort with current outcomes. In other words, if focused studying for 30 minutes gets him a lower grade than he wants then how much more time would he need to study to get the grade he really wants to get. Note that this approach only works if you understand and believe in the power of the growth mindset.
  3. Your teenage daughter has to start prepping to take the SAT or ACT test. Far in advance of taking the exam, you have a conversation around the colleges she is hoping to get into. Then, you ask her to list the colleges in order of preference. Finally, you ask her to look up what the average ACT or SAT score of students who were admitted to those schools so she can see very clearly how well she has to perform on the tests in order to get into her school of choice. This exercise empowers her to know what good looks like and will hopefully give her a sense of just how much effort is required to get what she wants.

Fostering Independence in Your Children

Even the smartest parents can’t help themselves when it comes to intervening in the very tasks that give children a sense of independence. To make matters worse, this behavior in adults changes from physical intervention for young children to emotional intervention in youth and adulthood. Parents are often too quick to tell their children how things are or how they should be instead of giving them the independence and the tools they need to come to the very conclusions that foster their sense of confidence.

Let’s all work to give our children a little more space to figure out things on their own. In the end, as your children come to wonder just how much effort is enough effort to achieve what they want in life, consider giving them a set of tools in the form of a rubric and be there on the sidelines to root them on.



Tim Schwartz
Family Matters

I get joy from inspiring people, parenting my daughters & creative endeavors. I write to share my perspective & capitalize on my life experience. 🔎🤔